White coat-wearing boffins have managed to potentially create a natural alternative to rocket fuel, using bacteria.
Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute made the breakthrough by using E.Coli - the cause of food poisoning that's usually associated with going head-down into the toilet, not jetting up into space.
Essentially, the boffins have introduced an enzyme to a strain of E.Coli that yields something called pinene. Combining two pinene molecules could lead to a fuel that will offer as much energy as current JP-10 rocket fuel.
The exciting part about this, other than removing our reliance on oil, is the new fuel will be able to directly replace the current juice. This means the new burner fluid could be poured into current rockets without changes needed and it will work just the same.
It's still in the early stages of development right now, though.
Peralta-Yahya, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, said: "We have made a sustainable precursor to a tactical fuel with a high energy density. We are concentrating on making a 'drop-in' fuel that looks just like what is being produced from petroleum and can fit into existing distribution systems."
At the moment problems are still stopping final production. But there is confidence these can be overcome
"Now we need either an enzyme that is not inhibited at high substrate concentrations, or a pathway that can maintain low substrate concentrations throughout the run," said Peralta-Yahya. "Both of these are difficult, but not insurmountable, problems. If you are trying to make an alternative to gasoline, you are competing against less than $1 per litre. That requires a long optimisation process. Our process will be competitive with $7 per litre in a much shorter time."